By Anne Arntson
Oboi Reed loves bikes. For those who don’t think cycling is cool, he has two words: “Experience it.”
Reed grew up in Chatham on the South Side, and a bike was how he got around. In middle school, cycling wasn’t cool anymore, so he stopped. But 10 years ago, he used the bike as a vehicle to tackle depression.
Now 41, Reed cofounded Slow Roll Chicago, which advocates for equal bike usage across the city, with childhood friend Jamal Julien last fall. It was inspired by Slow Roll Detroit, which launched in 2010. The group wants to increase bike ridership in the South and West sides and improve health, create jobs and reduce violence.
“When you’re on a bicycle, it’s a different way to see the neighborhood,” Reed said. “It’s a different way to connect with people compared to when you’re in a car surrounded by glass and steel.”
He added that biking “can contribute to reducing obesity, addressing in a positive way, some of the chronic health conditions that communities of color are adversely affected by.”
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, African-American adults are 70 percent more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes than non-Hispanic adults.
In East Garfield Park on Saturday, the group also took on gender equity with its first women-led community ride, hosted with Women Bike Chicago and Breakthrough Urban Ministries, a poverty relief organization.
Lisa Curcio, founding member of Women Bike Chicago, said the partnership was a perfect fit.
“We have in common the goal of engaging people from diverse communities in riding bikes for transportation and recreation,” Curcio said, adding that bikes bring people together regardless of socioeconomic status.
Marilyn Winters, who participated in Saturday’s ride, agreed.
“It is indiscriminatory. Regardless of your race, your nationality, your age, there are bikes made for you,” Winters said.
In addition to special rides, Slow Roll Chicago hosts its Signature Ride Series on Wednesday evenings on the South and West sides.
“Those are the neighborhoods that need the most bicycle love right now,” Reed said.
The weekly rides are free to the public. For May’s Wednesday ride series, participants will ride with local bike shops.
Saturday’s ride was Larry Hairl’s first slow roll. “It’s like a community,” he said of the event. “We all ride together. I love that.”
Hairl, who tries to bike 2 to 3 miles every day, said he loves the fresh air, and the exercise helps with his arthritis.
To increase ridership on the South and West sides, Slow Roll Chicago is making more bikes available to more people.
“One of the realities of low-to-moderate income communities, communities of color here in Chicago, is that a lot of us don’t bike, and we want to address the barrier of people not owning bikes,” Reed said.
On Saturday, the group partnered with Divvy, and Bike and Roll Chicago to provide loaner bikes to participants.
Reed said the idea is just to get people riding and, hopefully, challenge their perceptions of bikes and their communities.
“There’s beauty everywhere. There’s beautiful parks, there’s beautiful people, beautiful organizations, beautiful architecture, and we want people to experience that to begin to see our communities in a new light,” Reed said.